There is much to admire about Luis Suarez.
He is a prolific goalscorer and a scorer of great goals. He, along with Diego Forlan, has spearheaded Uruguay’s renaissance as a footballing power. He shines brightly in a distinctly average Liverpool team. He plays with great enthusiasm and imagination. In many ways, he is a bit of a ‘throwback’ footballer who seems to enjoy the game for what it is.
And that is where the problem lies.
Luis Suarez is not what we normally perceive as a ‘dirty’ player: he doesn’t tend to swing elbows or fly into tackles. However, he is a snide player – a characteristic that is at the root of his current problems. Today he was handed a ten-match ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea. Coming just over two years since he got a seven-match ban in the Netherlands for a similar offence, it is hard to see how anyone can be surprised by the length of the ban given his past record. (This is notwithstanding the inevitable cries of ‘injustice’ from unthinkingly myopic Liverpool fans – every club has them, but Liverpool’s seem to be the most numerous, most vocal, most persistent and most willing to believe in Alex Ferguson-inspired conspiracies.)
The Professional Footballers’ Association has offered to send Suarez on an anger management course, but that misses the point: Suarez’s actions are deliberate and not borne of anger, but of a desire to gain advantage – by feigning injury, by executing an innocuous-looking stamp, by pushing and shoving, by pulling an opponent’s hair, or by attempting to surreptitiously bite an opposition player. In all cases, he is trying to rile and provoke.
Suarez’s actions are deliberate and not borne of anger, but of a desire to gain advantage
Suarez was, of course, banned for eight matches last season for racially abusing Patrice Evra of Manchester United – but this was not, I believe, a result of Suarez being a racist; instead, it was another way to unsettle an opponent. And it generally works – in most of these incidents, Suarez escaped on-field punishment, and opponents were put off their game. His two lengthy bans – which mean that he will have missed nearly half a season’s games in two-and-a-half years at Liverpool – have come as a result of subsequent investigations.
And that is why Suarez is the throwback footballer. He seems blissfully unencumbered with the knowledge that he might get caught; that the cameras will always follow him. With the prospect of not playing a club game again until mid-September, he’s got a long time to acquire that knowledge and bring his undoubted talents back to the fore.
Let’s hope he does – much as football is enlivened by pantomime villains such as Suarez, it is lit up more by his enthusiasm and skill.